Paclitaxel and docetaxel have emerged in the last two decades as effective antitumor agents in a variety of malignancies. Paclitaxel is a semisynthetic taxane isolated from bark of the Pacific yew tree. Docetaxel is a semisynthetic taxane derived from the needles of the European yew (Taxus baccata). These compounds bind to tubulin, leading to microtubule stabilization, mitotic arrest and, subsequently, cell death. Plasma clearance of paclitaxel exhibits nonlinear kinetics, which results in a disproportionate change in plasma concentration and area under the curve (AUC) with dose alterations. In contrast, docetaxel has a linear disposition over the dose ranges used clinically, so its concentration changes linearly with changes in the dosage. Premedicating with corticosteroids and histamine H1 and H2 receptor antagonists is advocated prior to paclitaxel administration; prior to docetaxel administration, premedication with corticosteroids is suggested. The taxanes are metabolized in the liver by the cytochrome P-450 enzymes and are eliminated in the bile. The known metabolites are either inactive or less potent than the parent compounds. The toxic effects associated with paclitaxel therapy are mainly neutropenia, peripheral neuropathy, and, rarely, cardiotoxicity. Docetaxel toxicity produces mainly myelosuppression and a cumulative dose fluid retention syndrome. Paclitaxel demonstrates sequence-dependent interactions with cisplatin, cyclophosphamide, and doxorubicin. Docetaxel has shown increased myelosuppression with preceding ifosfamide in a preliminary study. The future holds increasing indications for taxanes in newer combination regimens; consideration of their pharmacologic characteristics is an important aspect of designing and applying new taxane-based treatment regimens.
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